A Border Collie's Mistress' Place for News and Musings

Travels, Trials and Tribulations

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

If I had a dime for every time I heard this

"A wise dog man once told me..much better to have a good open dog than a great nursery dog"

* This blog is about  my experience and my dogs.*  First of which, I have few, second of which I have some. 

This is going to be a bit of a rant/tangent, so please lovely person that quoted this most recently, take no offense I totally respect you as a dog trainer and handler. 

So here is what I believe.  Dogs are like people, some learn faster than others.  Some trainers have skills others don't.  I don't know if it is luck or skill or what, but the last 2 dogs I have run in Open have had really strong Nursery careers. I have a crazy nice young Open dog now an sadly my older guy is retired already due to health issues. I'm working on a third dog that looks like he could have a really strong Nursery career next year.  He's a 2 year dog, but I will not run him in Nursery or Pro Nov until next season.  Odds are looking like he will make a solid Open dog, he's got a lot of natural talent and he's pretty darn biddable.   I do believe you can quite easily damage a young dog by pushing it faster than it is ready to learn and throwing it into situations that are over its head.  No doubt there.  I also think that youth is used as a crutch too and dogs are allowed to act up and be irresponsible far too long in what turns into an excuse of well I want a good Open dog it is only 3 or 4 or 5.  A good Open dog starts at 8 weeks, my dogs must listen to me THE FIRST time (once they have learned what it is I want) I ask them to do something, no matter what it is.  I spend a lot of time teaching them to learn, and encouraging them to listen to me.  They learn really easily through positive reinforcement, the "treat" is always worth more than the behavior I'm asking for.  

Nope, they don't do any tricks and yes I use corrections.   They just do basic things like come when called, load up, lay down, and get to their beds.  I really foster calm quiet behavior and listening skills.  Some dogs want to listen and be calm more than others.  Eventually, the behavior that is rewarded most is the one that gets repeated most.  In my case in the beginning, minding me and being patient are the 2 biggest things on the list. Before I ever get to sheep I want to mold my dog's mind and gear it towards clam quietness and partnering up.  Ok onwards...

After all that, I generally don't have to make my dogs do anything.  I can get them to do what I need for the most part.  I can discuss get vs. make some other time.  I am not interested in fighting with my dogs, ever.  Sometimes it does happen, but I try to figure out why it happens and what I can do better to help my dog out.  This is starting to feeling like a tangent, I promise I'm bringing it home.

Focusing on Hank now for a minute.  He's coming along pretty quickly.  I work him 30 minutes per week.  Yup I set a timer and he gets one work session of 15mins 2 times a week.  Eventually this will change, but for right now, what he's doing and where he is at has been accomplished in that constraint.  I work with what he gives me at his maturity level and with in the perimeters that he kind of throws out for the day.  He's 16 mos old, sometimes his flanks are broken, sometimes his stops are broken, sometimes his brains fall out.  I basically try to work on the issues that present themselves and I try not to yell or put a ton of pressure on him.  Right now as long as he is not being mean to the sheep, I don't really harsh on him.  If he's being an ass to the sheep I chew him out quite a bit.  That is the one thing he is responsible for right now is treating the sheep nicely, I have a high bar and I hold him accountable for every time his screws it up. He's totally capable of moving my sheep with out diving in and biting them ;)  I spent a lot of time not saying anything and just let the sheep show him how to do his job.

Finally, I do understand the role maturity and experience plays in becoming an Open dog.  However I really want a dog that I can at least fantasize about putting in Open at the end of their 2nd Nursery year.  I don't want to wait for a dog to be 5 or 6 before it is a reasonable dog on an Open course.  I believe a dog should be just entering its prime at 6 and having potentially 2+ years of Open at that age under its belt is going to put it a head of the curve.  Every dog is an individual and every trainer has a different set of skills.